Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
When I ponder the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth I'm struck by how pedestrian it would look to anybody who was present at the time. We don't speak in capital letters of the Visitation of the Smiths to Joneses for Dinner. We don't announce to our spouse, "Honey, the hour is coming and has now come for the Visitation of Your Mother-in-Law from Cleveland." So it's intriguing to wonder why this episode from Mary's life would be so significant that it deserves a mystery of meditation devoted to it.
Given that this scene is supposed to be a vital one in the Great Revelation, I am forced to ask, "What is revelatory about it?" And the thing that literally jumps at me is John the Baptist — jumping. It's an incredibly intimate thing when you think of it. Elizabeth goes to meet Mary and, somehow, in that strange quiet way he has, the Holy Spirit gives to her the great sign of just who dwells in Mary's womb. Does he use fiery writing in the sky or great clarion calls from the eternal realms? Does he wake up the whole neighborhood with some spectacular Cecil B. DeMille vision of angels that points to Mary and says "Attention People of Earth! This woman is the Mother of my Son!" Nope. Just a flutter in Elizabeth's womb. Only she can feel it. Only she, of all the earth's citizens, knows it. Yet it communicates to her a revelation as powerful — more powerful — than the parting of the Red Sea.
More than that, it creates something absolutely new in the universe: Christian friendship. Friendship, of course, is not a Christian invention. Friends are born when two people gaze, not at each other, but at something they both love and then say, "You too? I thought I was the only one!" Elizabeth has been carrying the secret of her miraculous (albeit natural) pregnancy for a few months. She has been contemplating in love the Lord who accomplished it. And now Mary comes, bearing that Lord himself in an even more miraculous pregnancy. The laughter, the camaraderie, the "You too?," the shared stories, the awed quiet: all these would be natural. And in that, for the first time, two human beings become friends by sharing, not a perishable love of some earthly thing like stamp collecting or books or old movies, but an imperishable love whose foundation is Jesus Christ. Like kids, they share a huge secret: the thrill of being "the only ones who know"! But like mature disciples, they know that the secret is to be shared with the whole world, too. And it is a dark and difficult secret. For precisely what both women are being called to do is give their sons' very lives that the world might be saved. They are, it turns out, comrades-in-arms in the greatest spiritual battle in the universe. And a sword shall pierce their hearts, too.